Update: The Office of the Navy has released information regarding how the possible government shut down will affect its personnel, active duty and civilian. You can download the Rhumb Lines document here.
As I write this the Federal Government is still debating over a plan that will keep the government from shutting down at midnight on Friday. If they cannot pass a budget or a stopgap spending bill, military members all over the world will only receive half a paycheck on April 15th.
Some military families are not prepared to live on half their income, even for a few days or weeks. Many joined the military for the consistent paycheck and guaranteed (so to speak) income. Many are trying to pay off their old debts, or struggling to get by on one small military income. While there are many things you can do to be prepared if this happens again, let’s focus on what you can do if this happens tomorrow!
You will be getting a paycheck on April 15th even if the government shuts down. (April 29th is not guaranteed if the government doesn’t get its act together before then) The paycheck will be half of the regular amount. Figure out what bills have to be paid. If it were me I would prioritize food, shelter, utilities, gas.
If you truly cannot make a payment consider calling your landlord or mortgage company and explaining the situation. If you have never been late with payments before they might be willing to work with you. Offer to pay part of your payment or as much as you can afford.
Create a Budget
Take your usual paycheck and divide it in half. Then take that amount and start deducting your expenses based on your spending priorities. Remember this is temporary, so if you are paying extra on your mortgage or car payment don’t do it this month if it means skipping or being late on another payment. If you are living paycheck to paycheck you will not have enough money to cover all your expenses which is why the first step was to prioritize.
Write all of this down and put it on your fridge. Make sure everyone in your family sees the new budget so there are no surprises.
Do You Have an Emergency Fund? This is an Emergency!
If you have an emergency fund, now is the time to use it, if necessary. Even if you only have a few hundred dollars saved it might get you through this crisis. Use money from your emergency fund instead of a credit card. You will be able to fund it again once a budget is passed and you are paid.
Stop Spending Money
Starbucks, no. McDonalds, no. Magazine in the check-out line, no. If it isn’t something that is needed to keep you alive and under shelter don’t buy it. I realize some people feel like they need Starbucks to survive, but you can live on home brewed coffee for a few weeks. Carefully consider every purchase, if it means going into debt or possibly paying late fees on your mortgage, rent or utilities it probably isn’t worth it.
Eat From the Pantry
One of the biggest areas for potential flex is the food budget. Take stock of the food you already have in your home and create a meal plan. Figure out what ingredients you need to go with your pantry food and make a grocery list. If the words steak, soda, chips, or ice cream are on your list cross them off. You don’t need them. Think like you are broke, because for now you are. Dried beans, rice, ground turkey, whole chickens, inexpensive vegetables, and oatmeal are all good for you, filling, and cheap.
Take cash to the grocery store and only buy what you absolutely need. If possible shop without your kids so you aren’t tempted to appease them by throwing in a box of overpriced cereal or fruit snacks.
*Note: If the Government shuts down, Commissaries will not be open. Shop today or tomorrow if this is your cheapest grocery option.
Pack a Lunch
I’ve noticed that military members have a habit on going out to lunch, often. Hopefully since everyone is working for free this won’t be an issue, but you never know. Packing a lunch is a huge immediate savings and a great way to use up leftovers.
Stay at Home
Gas is expensive, so limit your trips. Carpool with friends if your kids have practices and consider walking. When we lived on base almost everything was within walking distance. It was a long walk, but it was possible. Consider canceling activities that are far from home for the next few weeks to keep your gas costs to a minimum.
Stop Looking For Deals and Bargains
While I love a good deal, sometimes these deals and bargains can actually cost you more. Amy has a great post about deals, detailing the best way to save money. Stop hunting for great deals and focus only on purchasing what you absolutely need to live for the next few weeks. It’s okay if you miss a great deal, there will be more, I promise.
Ask for Help
Don’t be so proud as to not ask for help if you need it. Letting others serve you blesses them far more than it blesses you. If the budget shut down means your kids will go hungry (truly hungry – not missing out on lunchables) go to your church, command, or friends and let them know you need a little help. I’m sure one day you will be able to help others in return.
* If you are in dire need you can contact the Army Emergency Relief for help.
Remember how you feel right now having to make very difficult choices about money. After the government starts signing paychecks again you have a chance to get on the right track financially and begin saving for these types of emergencies. For the past few years we challenged ourselves to live on half of my husband’s income. We did it even if it meant making sacrifices that made us seem weird to others. We now have an emergency fund that could keep us living at our current standard for six months. While we hope to not have to touch it, we know that it is there and I honestly sleep better at night because of it.
Money does not make you happy or solve every problem, but making wise choices regarding your finances is important.
What is your plan for living on half a paycheck? Are you prepared or will you be making some drastic cuts in your spending over the next few weeks?